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Ultimate Cruise Packing Guide: Don't Set Sail Without These Essentials!

"I'm going on a cruise... what should I take with me?" - If I were paid one euro every time I've received this question, I could probably start my own cruise line. Okay, maybe not that much, but it did fund a couple of cruises. That's why in this post, I bring you what should never be missing in your cruise suitcase*, including a curious accessory to keep your belongings in sight. Let's get started!



What to wear

Undoubtedly, the biggest concern when packing starts with clothing, especially regarding factors like temperature and evening formality. It's common practice to pack clothes for both daytime and nighttime, but this depends on the type of cruise you plan to take.


Excursions

By this, I mean that if your intention is to go on excursions during the day, you can't afford to forget comfortable clothing and footwear. After all, for onshore activities, you should plan the same as you would for that destination on an independent trip. For this, I recommend checking the temperatures in each port and adapting to the type of excursion you want to undertake. It's not the same to visit a town on foot in winter as it is to go hiking in the peak of August.


TIP: Add all the ports in the order of your cruise to your phone's Weather app. This way, you can quickly check the week's forecast a couple of days before the cruise and see how the temperatures are shaping up and the rain forecast, for example."



Evenings and themed parties

"For life onboard, there are cruise lines that are more formal (like luxury ones, for example), others that opt for a casual style with some themed nights (such as Costa or MSC), and others that focus on absolute freedom (like NCL). Of course, having themed nights doesn't necessarily mean you have to follow a dress code. In fact, sometimes they are so elaborate that hardly anyone follows them, although on other nights like the white party, it's common to see all passengers dressed accordingly. The most common themed nights are the white night and some gala nights. Other themed nights I've come across include the Italian night (green, white, and red) or the Latin night on Costa (red and black); or the Scarlet Night (red) and pajama party on Virgin. Don't stress too much. If you feel like following the dress codes, it's best to optimize your luggage and, for example, find a pair of pants that can work for two nights or an accessory that doesn't take up much space and nods to the recommended color.


TIP: If you want to find out if there are themed nights on your upcoming cruise, Facebook groups are the ideal tool to find out firsthand from other passengers who have just disembarked.



Onboard temperature

Another frequent concern, aside from evening wear, is about the temperature on the ship. Well, just like in almost any air-conditioned space, it tends to be a bit chilly in the summer and warm in the winter onboard. I don't mean you'll need to bundle up in the summer or wear short sleeves in the winter, but temperature variations between indoors and outdoors are common. So, if you're sensitive to this, keep it in mind and pack clothing that you can easily layer.


One thing I believe should never be missing from your suitcase is something thin that protects you from the wind and preferably from rain as well. Even if the day is warm, going out on deck to watch a sunset in winter or to see the midnight sun in the fjords in August can be a cold and unpleasant experience if you're not prepared. That's why bringing a jacket is an excellent idea, and I even bring a very lightweight one for summer in case it cools down and I want to be outside. You can also complement this with hats or scarves if the itinerary is particularly cold. And don't forget to pack an umbrella.



Swimwear

Undoubtedly, something that should also never be missing from your suitcase is your swimsuit. This may be more obvious if you're traveling in the summer in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, but my advice is to always bring it. All cruise ships have pools, and many of them are heated. Furthermore, there are always hot tubs and spa areas (usually for a fee) that are especially enjoyable if you're on a colder itinerary. Lastly, some destinations include stops with beaches that you might not want to miss, and the best part is that swimwear takes up very little space in your luggage. Pair it with appropriate footwear. Don't worry about pool or spa towels; they are usually available at all times.



Backpack

Once you've decided what clothing to bring, it's time to consider certain accessories that will be good companions on your journey. To start, you should have a comfortable and practical backpack that can be used for excursions and on embarkation day. I use a Mark Ryden backpack model that works great for carrying all my recording equipment, although I bring something smaller for excursions. Keep in mind that when boarding, you'll leave your suitcases just like you check them at the airport, so grab a backpack in which you can carry your valuables (cameras, laptops, etc.); essentials like medication, and especially your documentation and any travel-related documents.


Keep it simple: a pen

It may seem like a small thing, but despite many companies like Virgin that have digitized all processes, there are still many cruise lines that will have you fill out forms or luggage tags at some point. Finding pens in the cabin is becoming less common, so having one on hand will streamline all procedures and won't take up much space.


Cards and cash

The onboard payment method is always through your cabin card or wristband. However, you need to link a payment method, and again, many cruise lines do this online before departure, but others require you to register a card onboard or make a cash deposit. That's why it's important to bring your physical cards. Additionally, in some countries, contactless payment is not as widely accepted, and there can be many places where you'll need a physical payment method.


Also, I want to take this opportunity to mention that it's a good time to sign up for Revolut. It's a virtual platform where you can deposit money from your account, and it will allow you to make payments in other currencies with no fees (with a subscription) or with extremely low fees (with the free plan; more than sufficient).



Tip: If you request it in advance, you can ask to have a physical Revolut card sent to your home. Through my link, you'll have some benefits that you can take advantage of: https://revolut.ngih.net/c/4108486/1584936/9626



Sun protection

If you don't bring sunscreen, especially facial protection, here's a spoiler: you're going to get sunburned. Whether you're in a beach or mountain destination, or in winter or summer, I recommend that you bring suitable sun protection. I use this one from ISDIN, which has the perfect texture and provides good protection. Spending hours on the open deck at sea with few shades or walking during excursions is very common, so you'll appreciate it.


Furthermore, another item to consider is a cap and sunglasses. Again, they take up little space and can save you from the discomfort of prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.


Powerbanks

Undoubtedly, whether you want to disconnect on your vacation (or not), you won't completely separate from your mobile phone. Nowadays, many of us take all our photos or videos directly from our phones, and this, coupled with the screen brightness being at its maximum when we're outdoors, can make your battery last less than usual.


There's another factor to consider, and that's that on most cruise lines, the phone has become an indispensable tool for checking daily activities, viewing restaurant menus, or communicating with your companions. For this, I recommend having a portable external battery with you. In this case, I'm going to tell you about two types that I've liked:


On one hand, if you have an iPhone 12 or newer and simply need extra battery to last the day, I love the Apple MagSafe battery. It's a bit pricey, but it magnetically attaches to the phone, is very lightweight, and allows you to charge it with the same cable as the iPhone, simultaneously.



If you need more capacity or have a different model (whether it's Apple or from another brand), my go-to choice is Mophie. They offer high capacity, reliability, and other features like wireless charging. It's the one I usually use, and to this day, I find it indispensable for keeping all my devices charged throughout the day.


Bag for the last night

Similarly to how you leave your suitcases during embarkation, it's most common to leave them for disembarkation as well. In this case, the usual procedure involves leaving them outside your cabin door on the early morning of the day before disembarkation. This means you'll need a bag or backpack to hold items you want to keep with you until you pick up your suitcases at the terminal the next day. This includes your last day's clothing, toiletries, medications, documentation, and other personal items.



Advanced Tips from an Experienced Cruiser


Plug solutions

Here comes one of the great cabin dramas: few outlets, poorly distributed, and half of them unusable. But I have a solution for you. First, let me tell you about the situation. It's common to find few outlets in cabins, especially because cruise ships need to cater to various markets. This means that despite newer ships having multiple USB ports, there are many times when you have to deal with few European-style outlets and many American-style ones. One possible solution is to bring an adapter that allows you to plug multiple devices into a single outlet, but these items are sometimes confiscated to prevent electrical overloads and potential fires.


That's why I recommend buying this set of outlets that is very affordable and allows you to connect any European-style plug to an American-style one (or any other combination if you're coming from different regions). This way, you can make use of all the outlets in your cabin. Probably the best trick in this article.



AirTag: keep your belongings with you

Although I want to dedicate a full post to this, I want to give you a sneak peek at one of my best travel allies: the Apple AirTag. I'll tell you upfront that this device only works if you have an iPhone. If you do, keep reading. Apple released these small tracking buttons a while ago that can be attached to any object you want to track. Beyond keys (one of its most common uses), it's very useful for traveling and keeping track of your luggage (especially in cases of airline losses) and any other valuable item (like a camera, for example). They are sold individually or in packs of four, and all you have to do is attach it to the object you want, and your iPhone will show you its location. It runs on a button battery that lasts about a year and has been a bestseller. Highly recommended.



Expand your storage options

Lastly, one of the more recent tricks I discovered is the possibility of having more hangers in your cabin. To do this, all you need is one of these magnetic hooks. Since all the walls are metallic, they attach instantly and allow you to hang items like hats or bags. I wouldn't recommend using them for heavier objects, as the cruise line might take them away, but they're great for certain things.



Close the suitcase

You've got everything now. Or do you? Obviously, in this article, I've wanted to cover the most interesting points, which you should add to the basics of any other trip or any other extras you might fancy, like a book to read on the high seas, binoculars to observe land, or your headphones to listen to music while strolling on deck. This is already very personal and will depend on each person's travel style.


By the way... can I bring a hair straightener? What about a hairdryer? In a future post, we'll discuss the list of items allowed and prohibited on board. For now, I recommend checking with the cruise line you'll be traveling with. Bon voyage!


Don't forget to follow me on Instagram to join me on my adventures.


*This post includes affiliate links.

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